Monday, June 25, 2012

1:20 A.M. June 26, 2012

We spent two days in Portrush, on the Northern coast. Everyone wants to know where we are from, and why we are here, and when I tell them I'm studying peace and conflict, everyone has something to say. The first night we met a bunch of women at a "hen party" (the equivalent of a bachelorette party) who, in the midst of their revelry, wanted to tell me lots about their perspective of the situation in Northern Ireland. Their sense is that things are fine now, that the vast majority of people have no issues with one another, and that the only real issues are with radical fringe groups. "It's all in how you are raised," one women from Belfast explained, going on to say that she had learned from her parents it was unacceptable to make disparaging remarks about Catholics, and that the younger generation sees no barrier at all. I asked about intermarriage, and she said it was becoming more common, and that if anyone had a problem with it, it was the Catholics. I asked about the "peace walls," the walls separating Catholic and Protestant communities throughout Belfast, and she said they are mostly down. She shared that her father was in the Orange Order, a Protestant brotherhood that formed in part to suppress Catholicism.She was pulled back into the party before I could ask her more about how she reconciled these apparent contradictions. 

Yesterday, we hiked the Giant's Causeway, 8 miles of beaches and cliffs and the magical manifestations of igneous rock. We returned to our B&B in time to see the Orange Order parade through town, a frequent occurring during the summer parade season. 

Coast of Northern Ireland

Last night we met two men, old friends who grew up a few miles outside of Portrush. They too asked why I was here, and then shared their experiences as Catholics growing up in Northern Ireland. They talked about the Orange Order, which at one time included 1 in 5 protestant men in the North. Members could not date or marry Catholics, they could not attend a wedding in a catholic church, nor could they attend a funeral. Rules have loosened some, but they were very clear that the roots of this order were to keep Catholicism and unification efforts from taking hold in the North.

It was clear, in these two days, how differently people here see the same situation. Now we are in Belfast, where over 90 "peace walls" remain; tomorrow Jenae and I will tour the walls and deepen out understanding of Belfast's history.

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